Can You Accept That?
Knowing what really constitutes “self-love” has always puzzled me, so I am liking these recent questions from AM. I really like the metta meditation, but I am not always sure, in practice, how unconditional love will look.
To look good in my wedding dress years ago, like many brides-to-be, I decided to needed to lose weight. I was attending Weight Watchers meetings, and we were talking about self-love. I said that I needed to accept myself as I was, and decide that I am OK now, regardless of whether I lose any more weight or not.
It was a good realization, and as it happened accepting myself as I was then did make it easier to lose weight. I probably lost another 20 pounds before the wedding, and the WW leader was very complimentary about my success. She also said, “Aw, remember back when you said that you would have to accept yourself as you are? And now look at you! You didn’t have to accept that.”
I felt sad for her, thinking as she did that a less than perfect body was not acceptable. Yet I could also see what acceptance meant to her: giving up on yourself, not really loving yourself enough to treat yourself well and give yourself the best. It is such a hard balance to strike, between loving yourself as you are now and dealing honestly with things that you could stand to improve. It’s hard to tell the difference, sometimes, between giving yourself a break and giving in to things you know are not good for you.
Soon after that, I wore my beautiful wedding dress, moved away, and continued attending Weight Watchers meetings and losing weight. As a thought exercise, the WW leader encouraged our group to close our eyes and imagine how life would be different after we lost the weight we wanted to lose.
At this point I had lost a substantial amount of weight, at least 40 pounds. I looked a lot different than when I had started, had great clothes, a cute new husband and new apartment. Still, as I closed my eyes I nearly started to cry. I realized: the magical life that I thought would materialize after I lost weight was no closer than it was 40 pounds ago. I had not suddenly become more confident, famous, witty, or wise. I did not love myself any more as a thinner person. Inside I was still perpetually dissatisfied not just with how I looked, but who I was.
Once again, I had to recognize that if I wanted to love myself, I had to start with where I was at that moment, and not wait for myself to get a little thinner—or to get a cuter apartment, or to have a few more publications, or to organize my photos, or whatever was holding me back.
Pretty soon I’ll be celebrating the 16th anniversary of wearing that wedding dress, and I know from experience that self-love, accepting yourself where you are, starts over all the time. It’s not a one-shot deal. Not only do you have to deal with doubts that creep in when you aren’t looking, but you also wake up sometimes to find that “where you are” is somewhere you didn’t plan to be.
You’re asking all over again: Is this place OK, and if it isn’t, am I still OK? Getting back to a “yes I am” after that takes some effort. The metta practice can be wonderful for that. It can also help you sort out the difference between the place you don’t want to be—not taking care of yourself, in a bad relationship, in a rut—from who you are.
I also love AM’s questions. I don’t judge my friends’ bodies. I don’t even think about their careers. I don’t judge their parenting or their houses. As a highly critical person, I’m well aware that my friends are imperfect, but that doesn’t make me love them any less, and when I think of it that way it seems like a possible step to extend that to myself.